Delicate Delicata

delicata squash, squash, farmers produce auction
Delicate Delicata.

Living in the country all of my adult life, I like to think that I know vegetables. When I came upon these beauties, I had to ask what they were. The Amish woman said they were Delicate Squash. Given their intricate and varied variegated coloration, I could see why they got that name. However, when I saw the same squash being sold at the Farmers Produce Auction near Mt. Hope, Ohio, I checked the tag for the name. It read, “Delicata Squash.”

Of course, I Googled it when I returned home and discovered some tasty recipes. Next time, I won’t just photograph these artsy veggies. I’ll buy some, too.

“Delicate Delicata” is my photo of the week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

A simple but sacred sound

canning, strainer
The strainer. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s a simple sound, one that would go nearly unnoticed if it weren’t for all the work involved, and the anticipated joy on a cold winter day.

This time of year, the sudden, short, pleasing pop of canning lids sealing brings smiles to the faces and hearts of many folks young and old. It’s as sweet and lovely as the produce stored inside the glistening glass containers.

When I shared these thoughts on a Facebook post, I was pleasantly surprised at the immediate response from friends. Folks across several generations testified to the pleasure and joy this momentary, miniscule explosion instills.

Kelsie, said, “Just a tiny noise, but it implies so much.” Indeed, it does.

“It is the sound of successful accomplishment,” wrote Alexander from Russia. Exactly! That pop is the universal sound of delicious meals ahead. It is the announcement of another happy harvest.

“Love it!” Patty implored. “The sound of a job well done.” Knowing her family, Patty spoke from personal experience.

“Love that sound,” Vernon mused. His family history knows that blessed soothing sound, too.

“It’s always exciting and may be why I put up with the canning mess,” wrote Joanne. Professional, honest person that she is, Joanne pretty well nailed the harvest time celebration.

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Canning does have its stresses, though. Just ask Cathy.

“Boy do I worry when I don’t hear one of them,” she commented. “It’s exciting times around here to hear those pops!”

Those weren’t frivolous exclamation points either. A canner experiences great relief upon hearing that barely audible sound above rushing traffic, ornery children, and televisions blaring. Though this tinny ping of a noise lasts but a millisecond, it represents the efforts of months of intensive work and hopeful patience. Ask any gardener.

A lot of planning goes into ensuring a productive, successful vegetable garden. From the time the first seed catalog arrives in the mail mid-winter, gardeners envision what, when and where they’ll plant their seeds and seedlings.

Those who follow the almanac or family tradition have their peas planted by the Ides of March. Given Ohio’s extended winters lately, I doubt those plans played out.

Nevertheless, those who love getting their hands dirty can’t wait to plant those first seeds or set the initial tomato and pepper plants. First, though, comes fertilizing and tilling the soil.

A lot more active verbs follow planning and planting. Collectively, buying, watering, weeding, pruning, husking, peeling, cleaning, cooking, pouring outline the ground to jar process.

For those with truck patches, it’s fun to spot the first ripening tomato. It’s horrid to discover a tomato worm, however. Like it or not, that’s all part of the natural growing process.

The hope for the cunning canner is that the sweet corn, tomatoes and apples won’t all come ripe in the same week. If they do, everything else gets set aside. When it’s time to preserve the canning and freezing commence.

With burners blazing, kitchens quickly heat up often in the warmest weather of the year. It’s a sweaty but necessary price to pay for such sweet rewards.

Jeanne summed up the preserving procedure with these questions and a one-word answer. “Tomatoes? Juice? Pickles? Yum,” she said.

Come January, I just hope I remember all that went into creating a healthy meal of tasty tomato soup, pickled beets, frozen Incredible sweet corn, spicy salsa, and homemade jam. Most of all, I don’t want to forget that satisfying sound that seals the deal.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

August is a busy, often forgotten month

oats shocks, Holmes Co. OH
Shocking scene. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Poor August. Like Rodney Dangerfield, our eighth month just doesn’t seem to get any respect.

August is the forgotten month. No holiday graces its 31 days. Still, we often get lost in all that August has to offer and forget the month itself.

August calls to us daily, appealing to our innate senses. The month tantalizes us with good things to eat, smell, see, touch and hear. August is an equal opportunity sensation.

sunflower, August
Backlit sunflower. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Urban, suburban or country, August flies a multitude of colors. Cultivated and wildflowers grace gardens, country roads and even median strips on interstate highways.

The beauty is ever changing from month’s beginning to end. Cosmos, gladiolas, and hollyhock replace daylilies and daisies. Roadside royalties like asters and chicory are ubiquitous.

The colors of the floral circus attract fluttering visitors. A variety of gorgeous butterflies and exotically patterned insects help pollinate the blooms and entertain us humans.

Tiger Swallowtail, Conflower
Garden beauty. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
August days grow shorter of course. But its sunrises and sunsets are unsurpassed. Often, smoke and gritty particles blown high into the atmosphere diffuse the sun’s rays to create glorious dawn and dusk events.

Locally, the county fair is in full swing. That means fun and excitement for children both in years and in the heart. It also often means at least one good soaker.

In a properly configured growing season, gardens, orchards, and croplands are yielding an abundant harvest. Despite the late start, this year looks like a bumper crop of color and nutrition except for those poor peaches that were frozen out by two consecutive harsh winters.

All harvesting doesn’t always come from the garden. Picking wild raspberries, elderberries, and even blueberries provides a satisfaction all its own. On a recent jaunt through the West Virginia mountains, I witnessed a few folks staining their hands with those precious fruits.

Commercial and domestic kitchens are abuzz with activity. Jellies, jams, applesauce, salsas and many other seasonal delights are all being cranked out at their demand, not always our convenience.

canning tomato soup
Canning tomato soup. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

When they’re ripe, they take priority or there’ll be no goodies to spread on warm bread on a cold January evening. Besides the tasty preserves, generations of families and friends gather for the food frolic.

Back to school shopping makes the August to do list, too. Teachers, students, parents, and grandparents crowd the aisles snapping up pencils, paper, glue, and clothing. If you look closely, you’ll likely find a year’s supply of antacids in the teachers’ carts.

When the calendar flips to August, all of this rushes into our lives. Before we know it, Labor Day weekend will be upon us, and August will be but a memory.

young song sparrow, birding
Juvenile Song Sparrow. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
The oats stand at attention in shocks atop an emerald carpet of alfalfa. The radiant afterglow of another golden August sunset bathed the entire landscape, toasting even darker the already amber grains.

In the evening, choruses of crickets and katydids lull you to sleep. If you awake during the night, you can take in another of August’s wonders. The Perseid meteor showers can entertain you with magical streaks of pure awe.

Only the House Wren, attending its second or perhaps third brood, continues to sing regularly. Other bird species, having done their duties, have mostly grown quiet.

Many migrating birds have already begun their journey south. In the birding world, August is considered the beginning of fall.

See what I mean about August getting no respect?

August sunset, grain field
Russet sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

The sweetest part of summer

Cooking corn by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

Growing up in my post-World War II world, our family always had a garden. It was a logical way to keep the expenses down for our energetic family of seven.

Even as children, we knew Dad didn’t make much money. He worked hard at his white-color job. He left early and arrived home in time for the staple supper Mom always had waiting for him and the five of us ornery kids, although I think I was easily the best behaved of the bunch.

Mom worked hard, too, without a paycheck. Like most women of the era, she was a professional homemaker. She was at home all day, and during the summer months so were her five children.

She trusted us to roam the neighborhood as long as we checked in from time to time. Cell phones and texting weren’t even bad ideas then.

When Dad arrived home, the tempo changed. If my two brothers and I weren’t playing baseball, we, along with our two sisters, piled into the 1947 two-door, cream-colored Chevy, and headed to the garden two miles away. The land around our suburban home was too small to support a substantial garden.

A friend of Dad’s allowed us to use a portion of his property to garden. We planted, hoed, weeded and watched the crops grow. We cared for potatoes, green beans, radishes, carrots, peppers, and my favorite, sweet corn.

Rainbow of peppers by Bruce Stambaugh

Like a kid on Christmas morning, I couldn’t wait for the corn to ripen. Every trip to the garden I would squeeze the ears to see if they were filling out. When the tassels turned from blonde to brown, I knew the corn was close to being ready.

I loved the smell of corn, stalks and ears alike. Dad showed us how to carefully peel back the husks for a peek to confirm that the ears were ripe. For me, there was something special about the sharp sound of Dad yanking the corn free from its mother stalk. We took turns carrying the plump ears to the wheelbarrow at the end of the rows.

Husking corn by Bruce Stambaugh
Husking sweet corn is still a family affair in our household.

We loaded the car trunk with our golden treasure and headed home. We all helped husk the tender ears. We worked as fast as we could, knowing full well that the quicker we got the corn cleaned, the sooner we could enjoy it.

We ate some, and we froze some. By we, I mean my mother of course. Cooking the corn in the pressure cooker always unnerved me. I guess I was fearful of its scary hissing sound. Thankfully, my wife now just cooks the corn in a kettle on the stove.

Freezing corn by Bruce Stambaugh
Though my wife cuts the kernels from the cob before cooking the sweet corn, she still uses Tupperware and other similar contains to hold the corn in the freezer.
Mom ran the cooked corncobs down a wooden corn cutter. The yellowy kernels and sweet juice dripped into a marbled blue and white porcelain bowl. We helped fill the Tupperware containers, and once they cooled ushered them downstairs to the freezer.

Having sweet creamed corn in the middle of winter was a special treat. Still, it couldn’t compare to holding a freshly buttered and salted ear and crunching those tasty rows of kernels.

The ripening corn crop did have one drawback, however. When we were done harvesting and freezing the Iowa Chief, we knew it was time to start school.

Years later, here we are again near summer’s end. School is set to begin or already has. The tender sweet corn is already in the freezer, although it’s now Incredible, not Iowa Chief.

Sipping my morning coffee, I watch the school buses pass by the house. At my age, it’s the sweetest part of summer.

This column appeared in the Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Harvesting more than produce from your garden

Amish garden by Bruce Stambaugh
Large vegetable gardens like this one are everpresent in Ohio's Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Lakeside rocks and flowers by Bruce Stambaugh
Creative rock sculptures mirror the Hollyhocks in a Lakeside, Ohio garden.

I’ll make my confession right up front. I am not the most authoritative person to write about gardening.

Still, I like to think that I am observant enough to recognize a good garden when I see one. Whether vegetable, rock or flower, all gardens require much manual effort to keep them manicured and productive.

Growing up in the suburbs of a northeast Ohio blue-collar city, our father loved to garden. He saw it as a way to be out in the fresh air and to simultaneously save money by growing our own food. With five children, it was the practical thing to do. For efficiency’s sake, he recruited his offspring to help cultivate, plant, nurture and reap the garden harvest.

Rock garden by Bruce Stambaugh
Rock gardens add esthetics to any property.
Bright lilies by Bruce Stambaugh
These lilies would brighten any yard.

Our lovely mother would prepare in season feasts that included sweet corn, new potatoes, green beans, cucumbers and beets. She also canned and froze food for the cold winter months ahead. If we had had a bumper crop, we would set up shop in a busy business parking lot and sell sweet corn out of the car’s trunk.

Mom also propagated lovely flower gardens around the parameters of our small piece of suburban property. Mom used her artistic eye with the floral color selection to nicely accent the cherry red brick exterior of our post-war bungalow.

Home canned goods by Bruce Stambaugh
Home canning is back in vogue in rural, suburban and urban settings.

Those pleasant memories returned with the current onslaught of the harvest season in gardens all across the country. Television shows, newspaper stories, Internet blogs and even high-end glossy magazines feature how to properly prepare and preserve your garden gleanings.

Having a plot of garden is almost assumed when you live in one of Ohio’s richest agricultural counties. Don’t be fooled though. Contrary to what some might think, gardening is not confined to rural areas. People garden in suburbs and cities, too.

Herb garden by Bruce Stambaugh
Even small backyard plot provides fresh herbs and vegetables.

With the advent of the organic, all natural craze, and the tough economy, gardening appears to have made a universal comeback. Whether you have an acre or simply a few pots of herbs sitting on an apartment balcony, gardening is good.

Caring for tender plants, watering them, protecting them from weather’s extremes and pesky insects is worthwhile work with tasty rewards. I see it as a way to get us back to our roots, reconnected to the soil from which and on which all life depends.

Lakeside community garden by Bruce Stambaugh
A community garden in Lakeside, Ohio.

If we are mindful, we will recognize that gardening provides a solid base that can lead to other returns as well. Cooperative gardens, sponsored by both church and civic organizations, have sprung up across the country. Besides those who garden, the abundant produce often helps the less fortunate, the homeless and the needy.

An acquaintance told me how his parents would load up their battered family pickup with the excess of their giant two-acre garden, head into town and end up on the wrong side of the tracks. There they would park the truck and hand out the fresh, healthy produce to whomever needed it.

They repeated the routine throughout the growing season. The thankful recipients were so moved by the family’s generosity that they offered to help plant and maintain the garden the next growing season. Their grateful offer was accepted, and new trust and friendships were born.

Flower garden by Bruce Stambaugh
If properly planned and planted, flower gardens can brighten a property throughout the growing season.

Gardens connect us to the soil that yields our sustenance. If we are proactive, they also open our lives to much more than delicious food. Gardening doesn’t get any more satisfying and splendid than gathering two crops from one planting.

Lakeside flower garden by Bruce Stambaugh
An award-winning flower garden at Lakeside, Ohio.

The trellises worked: A tomato success story

Brandywine tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Red Brandywines ripening in the shade of the tomato trellis.
Tomatoes ripening on the vine by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes ripening on the vine.

How did our tomatoes grow this year? They did quite well, thank you very much, and little thanks to me. My wife did most of the work. I just took the pictures and enjoyed the bounty.

As you may recall, we tried something different this year. Tired of the weighty tomatoes collapsing the stakes and metal cages we “secured” them with, my wife found a plan for tomato trellises. Our son, who has become quite the food guru, lives in a loft in Wooster, Ohio, 16 miles north of us. He and his wife have no outdoor space for growing the vegetables and herbs that he loves to use for his gourmet cooking. (See the May 27, 2010 post entitled “A beautiful morning well spent.”)

Amish farm Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
The Amish farm on which our home is built.

Our house is built on an Amish farm four miles southwest of Mt. Hope and four miles northwest of Berlin, the unofficial capital of Ohio’s largest Amish population. In other words, we’re out in the country with Amish neighbors and farms all around. Since our son drives right by us every workday, he asked to join us in our limited gardening. After the drought of 1988, we gave up most gardening. My wife turned to flower gardening, which adds a multitude of color to our little acre and a half each growing season.

Wildflower garden by Bruce Stambaugh
The backyard wildflowers are only some of the beautiful flowers my wife cultivates each year.

The tomato trellis plans called for plenty of space, which required me to dig out more yard along the bricked garage wall at the south end of our home where we annually grow the tomatoes. We have discovered that the tomatoes seemed to thrive on the extra heat radiated by the bricks.

I dug out the grass by a couple of more feet, spaded the ground and added some horse manure the neighbor supplied when he fertilized the fields adjacent to our home. Our son, my wife and I erected a pair of the trellises on May 15. My wife purchased and planted a dozen heirloom tomato plants. Varieties included Hillbilly, Striped Zebra, Black Krim, Mortgage Lifters, Red Brandywine, Roma’s, and Old German. A friend from church also gave us an unknown variety. And several Yellow Pear tomato plants volunteered from last year’s crop.

Driving tomato stakes by Bruce Stambaugh
Our son drove 7 ft. stakes into the ground to form the support of the trellis.

We purchased seven foot oak stakes at a local nursery. The original plans called for eight-foot stakes, but the sevens were the best we could find without having some special ordered at a much-increased price. The main stakes were pounded into the ground, and the lateral ones were spaced and tied with garden twine.

The plants seemed to grow slowly the first month. But once the summer heat and humidity really kicked in, the tomato plants boomed. My wife repeatedly tied the ever-increasing shoots as best she could. Still, the end result looked like a jungle.

The plants are still producing, but with the peak of the season behind us, the plants production has slowed considerably. We did have to fight a bit of blight throughout the summer, but the plants continued to thrive. And we enjoyed their abundant production.

Green Zebra tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Green Zebra tomatoes growing on the vine.

I especially enjoyed the Green Zebras and the Hillbilly. They were sweet and low on acid. Sprinkled with a little sea salt, they made many summer lunches on the back porch tasty and enjoyable.

My wife also made delectable tomato salads with slices and chunks of the different varieties offered on the same plate, sprinkled with fresh mozzarella cheese and virgin olive oil. Cuttings of fresh basil perfectly seasoned the offering.

Mixed tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
A plate of colorful heirloom tomatoes.
Sliced heirloom tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Heirloom tomatoes ready to eat.
Canned tomato products by Bruce Stambaugh
Just some of the beautiful and delicious handy work of my wife.

Of course my industrious wife also canned whole tomatoes as well as chunked tomatoes, made tomato soup, and peach salsa. I did persuade her to reveal her delicious tomato soup recipe, which is as follows:

Tomato Soup

Group 1
14 qts. cut up tomatoes (preferably Roma’s)
14 stems of celery cut up
14 bay leaves
27 whole cloves
1 green pepper diced

Cook the above until all vegetables are soft. I use a roaster. Then put through a strainer. I let the initial liquid drain off before cranking the strainer handle. I can this for juice. Keep hot until ready to add group 2.

Group 2 (Note that any recipe with dairy products like butter and cream should be properly pressure canned.)
12 Tbsp. flour
1 # butter
6 tsp. salt
1 cup cream
16 Tbsp. sugar

Slowly cook group 2 to make a paste.

In a kettle/roaster bring the strained group 1 to a boil and add group 2. Stir often. Bring back to a slow boil. This is not a thick soup.

Put in jars, makes approx. 17 pints. Process in a water bath 30 min.

When ready to use put 1 jar in kettle with ½ jar milk and heat thoroughly.

Neva Stambaugh

Of course I tried to document the progress of the tomato growing and harvesting throughout the summer. Following is a sequence of how our tomatoes grew following the May 15, 2010 installation of the trellises.

Tomatoes mid-June by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-June by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-July by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-July.
Tomatoes mid-August by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-August.
Tomatoes mid-Sept. by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-Sept., beginning to die out.
Tomato blossoms by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes in blossom.
Green tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Green tomatoes on the vine.
Ripe tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Ready to pick.

By the way, after the first frost, the plan is to disassemble the trellises and store them for the winter. We also plan on extending the growing area yet again to allow more room to maneuver between the garage and the trellises.

We found several advantages to using the trellises. They were much more effective in cutting the loss of tomatoes to dry rot. Varmints, especially the four-legged variety, caused less damage, and the tomatoes were much easier to pick.

If you used trellises or have other options and suggestions, we would like to hear them. Please leave a message with your successes, ideas and lessons learned.

Enjoy your tomatoes while they last.

Bruce Stambaugh
Sept. 29, 2010

Roma tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Roma tomatoes awaiting the canner.
Picked tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
A variety of heirloom tomatoes.

A beautiful morning well spent

By Bruce Stambaugh

It was a gorgeous morning for what my son and my wife had conspired to do. The project itself was both practical and uncomplicated.

Of course, they needed me as the gopher, as in go for this and go for that. As it turned out, I will remember that beautiful morning for a long, long time.

Our son came to help build a pair of tomato trellises, since we will share the eventual bounty with him and his wife. My wife had found a magazine picture of just what was needed for our heirloom tomatoes.

Last year, the heirlooms flourished. But as the blossoms turned into baby tomatoes then plump fruit, the plants gave way to gravity even though they had been staked. If we didn’t get the tomatoes before they hit the ground, the dry rot did.

The main problem was that the tomato patch quickly became a vegetative jungle. It was difficult finding the ripe ones that hung hidden in the leafy overlap. That problem needed to be remedied if our two families were to fully enjoy the fruits of our labors.

readying the site
My son and my wife readied the site for the tomato trellises.

The proactive plan seemed simple enough. The growing tomato plants would be safely tied to the wooden trellises, which would better distribute the weight than the previous individual supports had. We had the perfect place to erect them, the south-facing plot next to our bricked garage wall, the scene of last year’s prolific patch.

The needed materials as shown in the picture were easy enough to come by. My wife had already obtained the sturdy oak stakes. I retreated to the neighbor’s farm for baling twine.

Using a measuring tape and a container of flour, the experts measured and marked where the supporting sets of three stakes each would go. Our energetic son climbed the stepladder with sledgehammer in hand, and the seven-foot posts were pounded into the fertile ground at an angle so they crossed near the top. Not wanting to look too professional, we just eyeballed the angles.

After each set of stakes was thumped into place, we attached the crossbars, again three on each side. We secured them to the stakes by crisscrossing lengths of twine around and around and tying them off. I think I can tie square knots in my sleep now.

tying twine around the stakes
Baling twine was used to secure the horizontal and vertical stakes.

Each bar was leveled in place. A top bar, which according to our son was purely for looks, was laid in the cradle of where the angled stakes intersected.

pounding in the trellis stakes
Our son pounded in the stakes that formed the trellises.

Once the first trellis was completed, one would think the second would go easier. Somehow that didn’t really happen. Still, it turned out all right, just a little off skew. The tomatoes won’t care.

In the process of all this measuring, climbing, pounding, angling, leveling and tying, we threw in a little kibitzing as well. You know how mother, father and son, and husband and wife can be. Personal, profound, picky, sarcastic, vulnerable, venerable, loved.

This constructing trio was all that and then some on this lovely morning. While we worked beneath a cerulean sky, robins, nuthatches, house wrens and blue birds called and fed and gathered nesting materials all around us.

Building anything isn’t exactly my strong suit, unless it’s memories. Indeed, this morning well spent fit that definition like a gardener’s glove. In truth, we had built more than tomato trellises.

Creating productive, valued, lasting recollections with family seemed a most appropriate way to prepare for Memorial Day. Come late summer, when the heirlooms are heavy laden but securely ripening, memories of a different flavor will be made.

the tomato trellises
The completed tomato trellises stand against the garage wall.